Monday, April 27, 2009

Respect Young People

Amongst reports of escalating juvenile crime and disorderly behaviour, it is important to remember that the majority of our young people, even when congregating in large groups, are decent, polite and honest. Recently I walked past such a group, smiled and said ‘Hi’ and as I walked away heard them express amazement that a woman of mature years had treated them like human beings. The young people I know claim that they are constantly treated with a lack of respect.
I remember well how my son was treated as a teenager. He was well-behaved and reasonably law abiding, but suffered from being treated as a criminal by the police. Three cases spring to mind. Firstly he and his friends were told to move on when they stopped by a park bench with a friend who was suffering from an asthma attack. They were threatened with arrest if they stayed to help him. Secondly, he was threatened with arrest for urinating in a public place when merely taking a short cut through an alley that allegedly smelled of urine. Thirdly, he was breathalysed when acting as the designated driver for a group of friends, and when the test was negative, the policeman sneered nastily ‘Well I am surprised!’
The police may be faced with a difficult job, but they need to remember that this generation of teenagers will be tomorrow’s responsible citizens; my son is now a professional man with a life-long aversion to police officers.

Biased Press, Again.

27th April
How can the JEP justify printing a letter today, saying that if 2 members of the House of Lords are suspended for misconduct why aren’t Geoff and Shona also being suspended? The obvious reply is that a) they unlike members of the House of Lords have been democratically elected and b) they would argue that what they are being charged with is not ‘misconduct’ but a challenge to a law that is incompatible with human rights. But in any case, if the JEP refuses to print supportive letters (and it does) how can it be allowed to print unsupportive ones and allow columnists to make inaccurate and denigratory comments when the case is sub-judice. The JEP may publish apologies and corrections but the damage is done. The longer it takes for this case to finally be resolved, and it has dragged on for what, to a layman, seems an unacceptable long time, the more it seems that it will be impossible for them to receive a fair trial.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tax Avoidance - Only for the Rich

But of course Jersey has so many ways in which the rich can avoid tax. Yes, I know it’s legal, but is it moral? Gordon Brown wants to plug some loopholes. Should we? And in response to Clive Tomes’ letter of last night, I don’t consider claiming allowances to be avoidance – no Mr Tomes, that is called redistribution of wealth – something you doubtless don’t favour. In Jersey, the simplest way to avoid tax is to have a ‘roll up fund’. Simple, that is if you have tens of thousands to invest. In the UK you can have an ISA, and avoid paying tax on the interest of up to £10 000. Isn’t it time we did more to encourage saving amongst the less well off, instead of favouring the wealthier?

The UK Budget - Showing the Way on Progressive Taxation

At last Gordon Brown has shown the way by increasing progressive taxation in his latest budget. Those earning over £150 000 will pay 50% income tax, and lose some of their allowances. Can we expect a queue of potential tax exiles? And if so, don’t you think they may be happy to pay a mere 25% of their pay in tax in Jersey. Surely the attraction of a sunny island within reach of their loved ones and London hairdressers will be sufficient inducement to prevent them going further afield, or from sitting under a rain cloud in the Isle of Man in order to receive a lower rate?

The Non-debate

22nd April
I didn’t post anything yesterday because I wanted to check the names of those who did not even want to debate the events surrounding Stuart Syvret’s arrest. I find it extraordinary that any States member does not want to know why the police should behave in such a heavy handed way, disregarding all the rules that protect our human rights. There seems to be no pretence at democracy. Interestingly a vote to even debate a proposition should fall largely along ‘party’ lines, with the honourable exception of Freddie Cohen; Simon Crowcroft was the only Constable in favour. It is interesting to see that Kevin Lewis (ex-JDA member) now virtually always votes with the Establishment – has his Assistant Ministership gone to his head, taking him away from his principles – if he ever had any. So meanwhile, do we all live in fear of a police force rampaging out of control, or can we rest easy knowing that it is only Stuart that will be at the receiving end of police excesses? What do you think?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tame the goose, not kill it!

20th April
Ironic, isn’t it, that some people will not vote for JDA candidates on the grounds that they are against the finance industry. Of course no candidate has adopted this position, as they know full well (in spite of accusations to the contrary) that the levels of welfare and public services that they seek to deliver have to be funded somehow. But change has been imposed from the outside, as we’ve suspected it would be and our aim of a well regulated and ethical finance industry may become a reality.

Lord Bach today has told Jersey that it must continue to tighten its regulation of the Finance Industry and improve transparency. Governments, and especially the US government, are no longer going to tolerate seeing the money earned in their countries, and needed for their welfare programmes, being leeched away. It is a shame that the meeting on tax havens, that took place before the G20 summit, was so poorly reported in the JEP. Harry McRandle left early, and chose to report little more than a list of who was there and a brief sound bite from each of the main speakers.

The assumption is that those who did attend must, of course, be enemies of Jersey – apart from Sarah Ferguson who patronisingly dismissed the meeting on Talkback as being like a student debate – though even when pressed she was unable to explain why. Was this because for the first time since her student days she was surrounded by intelligent and articulate young people?

The JEP failed to report what for me was the most striking message of the evening. This was that people in developing countries cannot be lifted out of poverty, in spite of the best efforts of the charities which Jersey people contribute to with such generosity, if offshore centres have mechanisms whereby the money earned in these countries can be siphoned off with minimal tax paid. The Christian Aid speaker claimed that a government’s ability to collect tax is intrinsically linked to democracy. Horrific to think that excesses like those of Mugabe may only be possible because of the existence of tax havens. And yet the press did not take the debate much beyond the level of ‘Oh look at that hypocritical protester, taking money out of a hole in the wall! See we need banks after all!’ As if anyone said that we didn’t.

Hopefully the finance industry will still flourish if it cleans up its act – but meanwhile, perhaps we should push forward with the JDA policy to have a well balanced economy.

Robert Kisch writes a letter in tonight’s JEP suggesting that the UK government is blaming the economic crisis on tax havens, which I do not believe is the case. He hopes that a change of government in the UK will give us a get–out-of-jail-free card. I think he’s missing the point here. It’s not about the politics of envy (though I certainly envy those that are earning several times more than me and paying a much smaller proportion of their income in tax – a situation that severely challenges my naïve view that life should be fair!) He finishes with that tired old cliché: that we mustn’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. But if that goose is making a racket that disturbs all the neighbours, and stealing the food of the subsistence farmers on the other side of the fence, and pecking at all the geese that lay honest edible eggs and only lets us have a small piece of gold from each clutch of eggs – well perhaps that goose needs to be brought under control!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Athena" introduces herself, and casts a critical eye on Senator Shenton

The time has come for me to stop shouting at the radio, and I haven’t got a cat to kick, so at the invitation of the JDA I am starting a blog which I hope will be a regular feature of the JDA website. I have named my blog after the goddess of wisdom, because I am a female and have attained the age where I might be granted a short space of wisdom before descending into senility. I make every effort to be well-informed, and will attempt to avoid the ranting and invective that Stuart Syvret is prone to. Though I am a JDA member and am largely in sympathy with its policies, the views expressed will be entirely my own. I look forward to readers’ responses.

19th April
So Ben Shenton is to boycott Tuesday’s emergency States sitting, called to raise the issues surrounding the arrest of Stuart Syvret last week. He apparently is unconcerned with the outrageous affront to the rule of law, caused by the police searching the property of a member of the public (and a States Member to boot) and removing goods, without a warrant. Neither is he concerned with the strong-arm and intimidatory tactics, at best a waste of police time, used by the police to take Senator Syvret in for questioning. Instead he chooses to accuse States Members who think they are ‘above the law’ of turning the States into ‘a circus’. Can he not see that it is not States Members, but rather the police, or whoever was behind their actions, who are behaving in a way that suggests they are ‘above the law’ and that places the democratic rights of all of us in jeopardy. As someone who presumably claims to support the democratic process, he should turn up to ensure that the truth is told. Could it be that he needs to spend a further day running his business, rather than give his full attention to the job that he is paid to do? He refers to the public being fed up with the ‘ill-informed minority’. Surely he must be in that category if he is not interested in probing the facts of this case. The politicians he refers to do not consider themselves to be ‘above the law’ (a phrase that is being repeated so often that it is destined to become ‘received ignorance’) but are primarily concerned that the law should be fair and should be applied fairly. (Interestingly, the police are not interested in questioning the witness that suggests a minister, who truly does think he is above the law, is taking back-handers .) There is a mounting body of evidence that the law is being manipulated to the advantage of those that represent the status quo.

Take the subject of the economy that Senator Shenton feels should be a priority. Will any measures taken put money in the hands of those who are likely to pump it straight back into the economy (ie the less well off, who do spend all their money and tend to spend it locally) or will they protect the rich, whose greed created the situation that we are in? And who is likely to promote fairer fiscal measures. Could it be the very members who are under attack? I hope the electorate is able to see through the spin and recognise which politicians are on their side.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Full text of letter from Geoff Southern to JEP

To letters editor, JEP

I have long thought that the introduction of ministerial government has done little to promote coherent joined-up thinking in our government, but the latest pronouncements from the Treasury Minister reveal that it is getting worse. Today we cannot even get consistency within one department. The right hand does not appear to know what the left hand is doing.

Senator Ozouf, no doubt sees himself as the saviour of the economy in these difficult times, when he announces that, thanks to prudent fiscal policies, shared with his predecessor, he can deliver £44 million to boost the economy in this financial year. He is reported to have said ‘There is a need to act quickly and decisively to support employment’ and ‘The sooner we can inject cash into the local economy, the more difference it will make’. He then singularly fails to apply this welcome initiative to the public sector.

Instead, he warns that there is no money for public sector workers pay, and that employees should prepare themselves for a pay freeze. ‘Nothing more than a pay freeze is going to be possible’, he says. However, the Council of Ministers have already offered 2% in the 2009 Business Plan, a figure that has already been stripped of the impact of GST on inflation. Now the Treasury minister proposes bringing it down to zero, taking £7.4 million out of the economy. The right hand giveth and the left hand taketh away.

In the meantime over at Economic Development, Senator McLean, his trusted friend, warns of redundancies in the public sector. ‘Job losses could not be ruled out,’ he told the Chamber of Commerce recently. Another brilliant idea. At a time when ‘we must act decisively to support employment’ he threatens to lay workers off. He can then spend some of the £44 m on redundancy payments, retraining packages, and Income Support, not to mention support for the mortgage payments of disposable civil servants.

For those at the lower end of the pay scales, such as the manual workers, and their private sector colleagues, the pay freeze formula offers only increased dependency on welfare. An additional £2 million is to be allocated to extending Income Support transitional protection for those in work on low pay, many of whom will be manual workers. Senators McLean and Ozouf deliver the opposite of what they promised at election time: A hand-out not a hand-up.
Furthermore, as both ministers must be aware, pay freezes do not work in the long term; they merely serve to delay the inevitable. They store up inflationary pressure in the economy. When the recession is over, perhaps in 2 or 3 years, then employees will raise their demands to compensate for the lean years, stoking inflation at the worst possible time.

Before this fiscal stimulus plan comes to the States in May, I suggest that ministers do some serious thinking and come up with a coherent plan to properly target help in recessionary times, rather than relying on instant, headline-grabbing soundbites.

Deputy Geoff Southern, La Rochelle, St Helier.